Mindfulness: A Beginner’s Guide 

Mindfulness is a buzzword that has been floating around the health and lifestyle communities for some time now. It may seem “trendy” or a little too “peace and love” for your taste, but I am here to tell you that mindfulness can benefit anyone, anytime. 

Mindfulness can help if you identify with ANY of the below statements: 

I work hard each day. 

I have significant relationships in my life (with parents, spouses, partners, coworkers, friends, children, and/or other family). 

I get stressed from time to time. 

I need to solve problems in my everyday life. 

I sometimes feel emotional. 

I am going through a hard time right now. 

I am friends with/related to/working with someone who is going through a hard time right now. 

I deal with a mental illness: anxiety, depression, bipolar, PTSD, and more. I want to focus better. 

I want to get the most out of every moment. 

I want to improve my sleep. 

I want to improve my productivity. 

See? At least one of these statements is bound to connect with each and every individual reading this right now. Mindfulness can help with all of the above. How is that possible? Read on. 

What even is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is simply the process of being fully present in the moment, and not letting distracting thoughts, feelings, or events take over. Mindfulness also means being aware of our feelings, thoughts, and emotions so that they don’t overwhelm us. Essentially: separating

yourself from your thoughts. The words “mindfulness” and “mindfulness meditation” are sometimes used interchangeably; mindfulness meditation is the actual dedicated practice of being mindful. In this article “mindfulness” will refer to the practice itself. 

Though many people associate mindfulness and meditation with monks or with yoga, mindfulness is actually a natural human ability that we all possess. As children, we are always 100% present. Three year olds are generally living in the moment, not dwelling on something they said yesterday or worrying about what will happen tomorrow. 

As we get older, take on more responsibilities, and have busier lives, we begin to allow our thoughts, worries, hopes, disappointments, and feelings to flow through our heads. How many of us have ever been in a meeting at work, driving, or grocery shopping while simultaneously thinking about something else? Guilty. In fact, if you think back to the last time you were fully living in the moment, you might be drawn to times of utter joy: vacations, wonderful conversations with friends, or important moments like births and weddings. See? We still possess the ability to be fully present, it just happens less often. One of the key tenets of mindfulness is being able to be present during the mundane moments, the boring moments, and, hardest of all, the difficult moments in our lives. 

How does mindfulness help people? 

Mindfulness helps, to put it simply, by reprogramming your brain. In studies reported by Scientific American, the “fight or flight” area of the brain responsible for fear and stress response (the amygdala) has been shown to shrink after participants underwent eight weeks of mindfulness training. In addition, the prefrontal cortex became thicker. This area of the brain is responsible for higher order thinking, concentration, and awareness According to the 

American Psychological Association, mindfulness has the following researched-backed benefits :2 

  • Reduces stress 
  • Improves working memory 

1 https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/2 http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx 

  • Increases ability to focus 
  • Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety 
  • Helps one to communicate emotions better in relationships 
  • Lessens emotional reactions 
  • Increases cognitive flexibility 

I’m intrigued but intimidated. Where do I start? 

Lucky for all of us, the growth of mindfulness as a movement means that there are tons of options for practice! You can get started right now: 

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position, letting your eyes close. 
  2. Breathe in through your nose, feeling your lungs expand. Breathe out through your nose, feeling the lungs deflate. Breathe normally, not faster or slower than usual. 3. Take 10 breaths, counting on each IN breath, until you reach 10. Try to focus only on what it feels like for the air to pass in and out. Do you feel it in your nose? Throat? Belly? 
  3. If your mind wanders or you get distracted, simply notice that it wandered, and go back to your counting. 
  4. Open your eyes. 

You just did a mini-mindfulness meditation!

Resources for practice 

The easiest and most accessible way I have found for practicing mindfulness is through smartphone apps. I have tried many, so I will give you a quick rundown below: 

Best option for someone just getting started: Stop, Breathe, & Think 

This app allows you to check in by selecting which emotions you are feeling at the moment. It then suggests guided meditations for you based on your response. Most meditations are less than 10 minutes. Free, with upgrades available. 

Best for someone new, but looking to commit: Headspace 

Headspace gradually introduces you to the practice and builds from there. Begin with 5 minutes/day, graduate to 10, 15, then 20 (sounds crazy hard, but it is possible!). A wonderful

app with great guided meditations, but is pricy for the subscription ($13/month or $96 upfront for a year). 

Best for skeptics: 10% Happier 

This app is packed with guided meditations and resources for people who still think mindfulness is something monks and yogis do, not “regular people”. The team behind the app hopes to convince you that despite the reputation, mindfulness is for everyone and doesn’t need to be touted as a spiritual, psychedelic experience. Its tagline: “Interested in meditation, but allergic to woo-woo?” Free, with upgrades available. 

Best value: Insight Timer 

My personal favorite, this app offers over 4,000 free meditations, which is way more than any other app I’ve found. They range across all types, lengths, and instructors. The downside is that you need to browse and select your meditation each day, rather than just having the app

list which one comes next, but for me this can be kind of fun! I’d recommend this to someone who has meditated before. Free. 

Happy meditating!